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Scotland braces itself for Maradona's return

Diego Maradona's managerial debut may be the main attraction but Scotland's match against Argentina will give the likes of Stephen McManus and Craig Gordon the chance to shine

They have chanted his name at Hampden for more than two decades. Finally, on Wednesday, the Tartan Army can thank Diego Maradona in person. After all, as the song goes, "he put the English out, out, out" of the 1986 World Cup. Ah, the light humour of cross-border rivalry.

Those who testify that the Scottish football media is a highly credible working environment, filled with news, interest and no shortage of decent personalities will have such a theory endorsed in the coming days. Diego is coming, as are journalists from Australia, Fiji and Japan. Some 450 of them in total; if ticket sales are slow, the Scottish FA need merely charge journalists £15 to get into the national stadium.

There is a common theory that the SFA got lucky when Maradona was confirmed as Argentina's new manager, Wednesday's friendly having taken on a completely different dimension. While that is true to an extent, potential prestige rather than finance is what has risen in recent weeks.

Because Maradona, of course, is not playing. Not like 1979, when a certain South American wonderkid descended on Glasgow, scored his first international goal and wandered off to have just about the career his talent richly deserved.

The likes of Alan Rough, David Narey, Frank McGarvey, John Wark and a certain George Burley still recount tales of that June afternoon in which the visitors ran out comfortable, 3-1 winners. Argentina will, however, wish to forget their last Hampden sojourn; a Stewart McKimmie goal consigning the World Cup winners to defeat eighteen years ago.

There remains no evidence that fans will turn out merely to see a manager other than, of course, those who want to claim "I was there" when Maradona first took charge of his country. A semi-1979 moment, perhaps. It may also be an isolated chance to capture him in the dugout given that the great Diego has already clashed with his national association over his choice of backroom staff.

Around 25,000 briefs have already been sold for Wednesday's game, that figure should swell by around 10,000 by kick-off; probably a legitimate attendance given that the likes of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano are on show. And, crucially, Lionel Messi is not. If Argentina were managerless, it is debatable whether the crowd would be significantly reduced.

Commercially, the SFA will gain nothing extra from their Argentine counterparts' choice of head coach. A television deal was agreed long before Maradona's appointment as was a hefty match fee for the visitors; anything between £500,000 and £1m depending on your source. Unless the Scotland merchandising outlets are planning to charge a fiver for replica Hands of God, this will be no cash cow.

But what it will be is a viable opportunity for the cream of Scotland's football talent to showcase their ability on the world stage. What value the achievement, for example, of Stephen McManus and Gary Caldwell successfully shackling Tevez for a second time in as many weeks, or Craig Gordon producing a string of saves from Sergio Agüero? For the Scotland players, this is one international friendly which is unquestionably worthwhile. Onlookers can only hope that, unlike Barcelona's pre-season visits to these shores in the last two years, meaningful tackles are part of the game.

For those of us who will be staking out hotels, watching Maradona's every wobble at training, and counting the entourage who are paid to drop rose petals at his feet, it promises to be a brilliant few days. And if there is one thing Argentina's colourful new manager can be certain of at Hampden, it is a warm welcome. Apart from when he meets Terry Butcher, that is.

Taken from the Guardian/Observer

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